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Connected: The networked teacher

Our blogger talks with educator and author Kira Baker-Doyle about the importance of networks.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

I recently sat down with Kira Baker-Doyle to talk about her book, The Networked Teacher, and the panel she moderated during the Philadelphia Writing Project’s 10th Annual Celebration of Writing and Literacy in November.

Reed: Why do teachers need to build social networks? Does the connotation of the word "network" mean that teachers need to spend more time connecting with each other online?

Baker-Doyle: Everyone is part of many different kinds of social networks – some are online, but most are face-to-face, like friendship, advice, and family networks. Teachers’ work does not happen in a vacuum – the people in their networks influence their feelings, beliefs, and practices. The real question is what kinds of relationships or networks offer the greatest support to teachers.

Reed: When reading your book, it made me think of the documentary film Connected, which screened during the Philadelphia Film Festival. Why is being connected so important for teachers?

Baker-Doyle: We know now that when teachers have strong and trusting networks with colleagues at their schools, student academic achievement is likely to increase.

Reed: So how do we re-imagine school reform through the teacher networks lens? How do teacher networks fit into teacher accountability measures?

Baker-Doyle: The findings about the importance of teacher networks in teacher effectiveness show that teacher quality is not just an individual issue. Rather, teacher quality is a systemic and social issue. Schools need to work to make space for teachers to network (i.e., actively collaborate) with many different members of the community, from parents and community members to teachers and administrators. At the teacher education level, pre-service teachers need to learn more about how schools work from a social and micropolitical level, in addition to learning content and pedagogical level.

Reed: What prepared you to author a book about teacher networks?

Baker-Doyle: I was a Philadelphia public school teacher and participated in the Philadelphia Teachers’ Learning Cooperative, a teacher-led network of Philly teachers that meets every week to discuss issues of practice. This experience showed me the importance of a strong professional network. Members of PTLC not only helped me think about my practice but also helped me develop a strong and capable identity as a teacher. They helped me through the tough times and pushed me to excel.

Reed: Your book includes several teacher-network narratives. Why are teacher narratives important?

Baker-Doyle: Teaching is complex work – teachers have to design their curriculum to meet the needs of 30 very unique individuals, all within the larger social context of the school and community. Narratives help us see important themes through this complexity and show respect for the intense work of teachers. Narratives are also important because they make the research relevant – because they help readers connect their own experiences with those of the teachers in the book.

Reed: During your book launch, you talked about how the companion website [thenetworkedteacher.com] would serve as a resource for both novice and experienced teachers. How does this site function? What are the benefits?

Baker-Doyle: Networking calls for ongoing dialogue, and I wanted the book to "walk the walk" not just "talk" about networking. The website offers resources for readers to discuss and reflect upon networking. I’m most excited about the community dialogues that the site will host. I’ll invite education scholars to share their insights on issues of teaching and education and then open the site up for readers to share their responses or questions. The first one will begin in December. The invited scholar is Dr. Ann Lieberman, who has traveled around the world researching teacher professional development and networks.

Reed: What do you say to the detractors who say you can’t measure the impact of teacher networks on students’ performance? The infamous question what does the data say?

Baker-Doyle: I say it has been done! In 2009, researchers Carrie Leana and Frits Pil found that teacher networks do, in fact, impact student performance. Beyond this particular study, there is a great deal of research that shows many ways that teacher networks impact schools, from the ways in which school reforms are put into place to how teachers understand and implement new curricula. There is no doubt that teacher networks are important factors in education.

Reed: So can we expect The Networked Teacher, Part II? I’m thinking a documentary movie may help further make the case.

Baker-Doyle: Wow! I’d love it! Right now I am really interested in how teachers build networks with students, and how pre-service teachers can develop stronger roots in the community. At Berks, I am in the first year of running the Penn State Educational Partnership Program’s Urban Teachers and Leaders Pipeline program, which aims to develop a corps of diverse community teachers and civic leaders beginning in high school and throughout college.